The Boat People

August 10, 2018

Refugee or terrorist?

The Boat People by Sharon Bala

Boat People

Genre/Categories: Historical Fiction, Refugee Crisis, Canada, Legal, Cultural Heritage, Sri Lanka, Family Life


Refugees or Terrorists? This is the urgent question that faces Canadian officials when a rusty cargo ship carrying five hundred refugees from Sri Lanka appears on Vancouver’s shores. As the “boat people” are thrown into a detention center, rumors circulate that terrorists might be posing as refugees and could create a threat to Canada’s national security. This complex, compelling, and heartfelt story, loosely based on true events from 2010, is told fairly from three perspectives: Mahindan (a refugee), Priya (a lawyer and second generation Sri Lankan Canadian), and Grace (an adjudicator and third generation Japanese Canadian).

My Thoughts:

Relevant, compelling, compassionate, and fair.

What’s at stake: refugees looking for a safe place to start over versus the safety of current citizens. In order to gain asylum, refugees need to prove that their lives are in danger in their home country as well as satisfy the new country that they are not a safety threat. In The Boat People we become acquainted with one refugee, Mahindan, his lawyer, Priya, and an adjudicator, Grace. The adjudicator is torn between compassion and the fear that a refugee (posing as a terrorist) might harm the citizens of Canada. How can one determine if Mahindan is lying or telling the truth? Readers grow to understand and appreciate Grace’s dilemma and wonder about her final ruling in Mahindan’s case.

Mahindan. In this timely story, I think there might be a third choice in labeling Mahindan as a refugee or terrorist, and that would be as a “victim.” Mahindan and his young son are refugees but as their story unfolds, we see that they are also victims of circumstance and war. Mahindan had to make unfortunate choices in Sri Lanka to ensure his survival which come back to haunt him now during the Canadian interrogations. Consider this scenario: if, as a Sri Lankan mechanic, you are forced to service the vehicle of a terrorist who uses that vehicle in a terrorist attack, does this make you a terrorist by association? Mahindan’s life is complicated by war, hunger, fear, violence, desperate people, and uncertainty, and he has to make tragic choices to protect his family. Will he be granted asylum? As a further complication, Mahindan is separated from his young six-year-old son at the detention center, and the story explores the consequences and implications of this decision.

What I liked. I appreciated the opportunity to read this refugee/immigration story from multiple perspectives, and I thought all sides were presented fairly. It’s sobering to consider what refugees are willing to sacrifice as they hang on to hope for a better future. Even though this is fiction, much of it reads like narrative nonfiction as we learn a great deal about the government process of granting asylum. It is certainly an informative,  thought provoking, and timely read in which it’s apparent that immigration issues aren’t as black and white as readers imagine. This is a story that builds empathy, understanding, and compassion.

What could have been better. Although it’s well researched, a compelling read, and a compassionate look at world-wide current events, I thought the author might have attempted to cover too much.  In addition, I would have liked a better resolved ending. Last, I was a bit distracted by the lack of punctuation for dialogue. Is this a new trend? If a reader is reading at a fast rate, it’s difficult to discern the difference between the narrative and a character’s direct words. In fairness, others have read it and reported that they hadn’t even noticed. So consider the punctuation critique as coming from a former 5th grade teacher who tortured children to learn proper punctuation of dialogue and file it under “personal preferences.”

Recommended. I highly recommend The Boat People for fans of compelling historical fiction, for readers who appreciate an in-depth look at a relevant issue in an easily accessed fiction format, and for those who desire to read more diversely. (and for those avant-garde readers who don’t worry about quotations marks!)

My Rating: 4 Stars


the boat people

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Meet the Author, Sharon Bala

sharon BalaSharon Bala’s bestselling debut novel, The Boat People, was a finalist for Canada Reads 2018 and the 2018 Amazon Canada First Novel Award. Published in January 2018, it is available worldwide with forthcoming translations in French, Arabic, and Turkish. The unpublished manuscript won the Percy Janes First Novel Award (May 2015) and was short listed for the Fresh Fish Award (October 2015).

In 2017, Sharon won the Journey Prize and had a second story long-listed in the anthology. A three-time recipient of Newfoundland and Labrador’s Arts and Letters award, she has stories published in Hazlitt, Grain, Maisonneuve, The Dalhousie Review, Riddle Fence, Room, Prism international, The New Quarterly, and in an anthology called Racket: New Writing From Newfoundland (Breakwater Books, Fall 2015).

Sharon was born in Dubai, raised in Ontario, and now lives in St. John’s, Newfoundland with her husband, the mathemagician Tom Baird.

Happy Reading Book Buddies!

“Ah, how good it is to be among people who are reading.”
~Rainer Maria Rilke

“I love the world of words, where life and literature connect.”
~Denise J Hughes

“Reading good books ruins you for enjoying bad ones.”
~Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

“I read because books are a form of transportation, of teaching, and of connection!
Books take us to places we’ve never been, they teach us about our world, and they help us to understand human experience.”
~Madeleine Riley, Top Shelf Text

Links I Love

 Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society releases on Netflix today!

1000 Books Before Kindergarten

My Summer TBR

I’ll be updating my Summer TBR list as I complete each read, so check this link often!
(So far I’ve read more than half of the list, some I’ve been more thrilled with than others, and I’ve only abandoned one)

Looking Ahead:

 Needing a change of pace, this week I’m reading Tell Me More by Kelly Corrigan and I am eager to bring you a review next Friday.

Tell Me More

Amazon Information Here

Sharing is Caring

Thank you for reading today! I’d be honored and thrilled if you choose to enjoy and follow along, promote, and/or share my blog. Every share helps us grow.

 Let’s Discuss

What are you reading this week? Do you enjoy reading diversely?

If you’ve read The Boat People, how did you feel about the ending? Has reading The Boat People changed your thoughts about the refugee crisis?

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Unless explicitly stated that they are free, all books that I review have been purchased by me or borrowed from the library.

Book Cover and author photo are credited to Amazon or an author’s website.


Glass Houses & Inspector Gamache Series

September 8, 2017

Do you love a gentle mystery filled with memorable characters placed in an idyllic Canadian setting? Do you love immersing yourself in a good series? Do you admire a kind, honest, thoughtful, moral main character committed to integrity and filled with compassion for others? Do you appreciate irresistible descriptions of food and cozy settings? If you answered yes to some of these questions, you might already be acquainted with Louise Penny’s Chief Inspector Gamache Series, admire the beloved Armand Gamache, and dream of living in the imaginary setting of Three Pines. If not, please allow me to introduce you!

First, the Series

Glass Houses is the thirteenth installment in the series. The books in chronological order are as follows:

Still Life
A Fatal Grace
The Cruelest Month
A Rule Against Murder
The Brutal Telling
Bury Your Dead
A Trick of the Light
The Beautiful Mystery
How the Light Gets In
The Long Way Home
The Nature of the Beast
A Great Reckoning
Glass Houses

Buy the Complete 13 Book Series Here


I have not rated any of the books in the series below a solid 3 stars. Some I have rated 4 stars. As typical with any series, I think some are stronger than others. In general, readers consider that she hits her stride with book #4. Her most recent release is one of her strongest yet, which is amazing for a 13 book series! You can check my goodreads account (my “read” shelf) for my specific ratings. Amazon ratings vary between 3 & 4+ stars.


The stories are so much more than good mysteries, they explore unique and complex characters who are a mixture of good and less desirable traits. The stories examine motivation, ethics, honor, courage, and compassion for others. Through reading the series, the characters become like friends. Some readers have loosely compared the setting of Three Pines to Stars Hollow (Gilmore Girls). The setting of Three Pines is symbolic in that its a place of comfort, safety, and solace for those who are hurting or who’ve lost their way (except when there’s a murder of course!). As with any good series, when a reader receives the next installment, it’s like coming home. It’s interesting to me that during a recent interview, Louise Penny reveals that she created the main character Armand (Inspector) Gamache to be like someone she’d like to marry (CBS Interview). Inspector Gamache is honorable, kind, courageous, nonviolent (except when others’ lives are at stake), thoughtful, well read, and an astute judge of character and motives.

Brief Overview of the 13 Book Series

Chief Inspector Gamache is head of homicide for the Sûreté du Québec. He lives by a code of the highest ethics and seeks to provide justice for victims of crime. His team consists of people that he has hand selected that have experienced failure in some aspect of their law enforcement career but in whom he sees great potential. Gamache adores and deeply loves his wife and soul mate, Reine-Marie, and they have two grown children. When we meet Chief Inspector Gamache in the first novel he’s a seasoned professional who sometimes clashes with his superiors at the Sûreté. Nevertheless, he has a reputation of solving even the most difficult cases. In Still Life (the first book of the series) at the scene of his current investigation, Gamache is surprised to discover Three Pines, a tiny, unmapped village in the forest. Throughout the series, Gamache returns again and again to Three Pines for various reasons, establishes friendships with the colorful locals, and eventually he and Reine-Marie move there and become an integral part of the community. Gamache is skilled at observation, determining motive, and at examining the emotions that lead to a crime. Author Louise Penny is a master at establishing a setting, describing delicious food, examining ethics and character, bringing us colorful and unique characters, and creating atmosphere and tension.

Can I read the books as a “stand alone” or out of order?

Reading the series in order isn’t absolutely necessary because each novel presents a unique crime that is solved within its pages; however, there is an overarching issue with the leadership of the Sûreté which is explored bit by bit throughout many books in the series. Also, a reader would miss out on the character development that occurs from story to story. For a richer reading experience, I highly recommend reading them in order.

Do I have a concern or criticism of the series?

Readers including myself are generally very happy with the entire well loved and recommended series  (as evidenced by ratings) and Louise Penny has a huge following. However, some have mentioned and I sometimes feel that Louise Penny is somewhat antagonistic toward the church. In her recent release, for example, a character states, “No one goes to church any more.” It seems to me that Penny’s own feelings about organized religion leak out from time to time in her characters words and views. Penny doesn’t write from a Christian worldview but, even though I notice it from time to time, it isn’t enough for me to not read and enjoy her books. This is a personal concern and observation and it may not bother other Christians at all. It’s something I tend to notice.

Glass Houses
by Louise Penny

Glass Houses

Genre/categories: fiction, mystery, detective, thriller, suspense


A mysterious figure appears in Three Pines one cold November day. Even though Armand Gamache and the rest of the villagers are curious at first, they soon become wary. The figure stands unmoving through fog, sleet, rain, and the cold, staring straight ahead. Chief Inspector Gamache, now Chief Superintendent of the Sûreté du Québec, suspects the mysterious figure has a unique history and a dark purpose. However, Gamache’s hands are tied because the figure hasn’t committed a crime, so he watches and waits. The villagers are tense hoping that Gamache will do something. The figure’s costume is historically tied to someone who acts as a “conscience” and comes to put pressure on an individual to pay a debt. Naturally, people in the village, including Gamache, start to examine their own conscience and wonder if the figure has come for them. Suddenly, the figure vanishes overnight and a body is discovered, and the investigation commences. This story is told in two timelines: the November timeline when the murder took place and later in July as the trial for the accused begins. In typical Penny style, more is going on a larger scale than just the trial. Gamache wrestles with his own conscience, the decisions he has made, and the personalconsequences he will pay. Amazon Rating (September): 4.7 Stars

My Thoughts:

This is a riveting story and is one of my favorite in the series. Whereas in other stories, Gamache analyses the motivations and actions of others, this story finds him also analyzing himself and we observe him taking actions that are not in accordance with his highest ethical standards. Something larger is at stake here, and Gamache and his team have to take great risks and be willing to endure severe personal consequences to bring about justice for the greater good. Interesting ethical dilemmas!

Symbolism of Three Pines

In Glass Houses, the following excerpts provide a bit of evidence for the symbolism of Three Pines as a safe place for the lost or hurting:

  • “People mostly come upon Three pines because they’re lost.”
  • “And then he went home. To Three Pines. To sanctuary.”
  • “I think everyone in this village believes that all shall be well,” Armand was saying. “That’s why we’re here. We all fell down. And then we all came here.”
  • And in the author’s own words: “The village does not exist, physically. But I think of it as existing in ways that are far more important and powerful. Three Pines is a state of mind. When we choose tolerance over hate. Kindness over cruelty. Goodness over bullying. When we choose to be hopeful, not cynical. Then we live in Three Pines.”

3 pines

Recommended for readers who would love to find a good series, for those who like mysteries and detective stories without a lot of violence or disturbing descriptions, for thoughtful readers who might want to consider character, motivation, and ethics. My Rating: 4.5 Stars (rounded to 5 Stars)

Read a free excerpt here.

Glass Houses

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Meet the Author, Louise Penny

Louise Penny

LOUISE PENNY is the #1 New York Times and Globe and Mail bestselling author of the Chief Inspector Armand Gamache novels. She has won numerous awards, including a CWA Dagger and the Agatha Award (five times) and was a finalist for the Edgar Award for Best Novel. She lives in a small village south of Montréal.

Click Here: CBS This Morning Interview With Louise Penny

Happy Reading Everyone!

“Ah, how good it is to be among people who are reading.”
~Rainer Maria Rilke

Looking Forward:

Next week I’ll review America’s First Daughter By Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie if you’d like to “buddy read.” In two weeks, I’m thrilled to review Castle of Water by Dane Huckelbridge, a likely contender for one of my favorite reads of the year!

America's First Daughter

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Castle of Water

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Sharing is Caring:

I’d be honored and thrilled if you choose to enjoy and follow along, promote, and/or share my blog. Every share helps us grow.


I’m curious if you’re a Louise Penny fan or would consider checking out this series! Have you read any of her books? Please share your reflections on the Inspector Gamache series in the comments.


This post is linked up with Modern Mrs. Darcey’s Quick Lit for September.

Check out Top Shelf Text and her blog post: Best Books of Summer 2017 here.

My husband recommends!

As reviewed in this post, my husband just read News of the World and really enjoyed it! In fact, as we were at breakfast this morning, we discussed and debated who should play the lead in the film version (should there be one)! I need to also mention that he especially enjoyed the excellent reader for the audio version.